Happy 40th Birthday Paul Maurice! Your team worked their butts off last night and earned a win for you. The Maple Leafs really wanted that game and it showed. They certainly wanted it much more so than the Canes did. Unfortunately, Carolina came out flat again to start the game. Really flat. So flat that at one point they were being outshot 10-1. They ended the period with 4 shots on goal to the Leafs 14. The Leafs dominated play so significantly that it seemed like they were on a powerplay for good portions of the period. They held the puck in the Cane's zone for so long at times that it seemed to me that they surely must have had a man advantage. I found myself counting the players on the ice just to be sure, but the idea of them having an extra man was just an illusion. They were just being very aggressive and the Canes were being passive. If not for brilliant goaltending by Cam Ward and a few lucky breaks, the game could have easily been a laugher from the start.
The Canes were able to generate two good chances in the period. Eric Belanger had a break away opportunity and was hooked a bit from behind which resulted in a penalty shot. After a nice fake, he missed the net on his attempt. I doubt anyone in the arena was surprised about that. Then late in the period, Dennis Seidenberg hit Ray Whitney with a very nice pass as Ray broke into the clear. The Wizard found an opening between Raycroft's legs to tie the score and soften the sting of the otherwise horrid first period of play.
The second period was better for the Canes. They created more scoring chances and had more shots on goal. They tried to pick up their hitting and match the intensity of the Leafs, but they could not take advantage of their improved play.
Finally the third period started and Nik Antropov of the Leafs found himself wide open at Ward's doorstep and put in a shot, just 30 clicks from the face off. Ouch, a defensive breakdown right from the get-go. Then the Leafs really cranked up the physical play. They knocked the Canes all around the rink, including their Captain. Alex Ponikarovsky went thigh to thigh with an already injured Rod Brind'Amour, knocking Rod down and keeping him down a few minutes. David Tanabe took exception and to his credit challenged the Leaf as they both threw down their gloves and drew 5 minute majors. It was the only highlight of a pretty bad night for Tanabe who had plenty of trouble keeping the puck in the Cane's zone and getting it out of his, all night long. You can't blame this loss on any one player though as the whole team failed to match Toronto's intensity and resolve to win.
After several futile attempts by the Canes to tie the score, Wardo finally broke down and allowed a softie which broke the Cane's backs and sent many fans to the exits. Antropov again scored, this time as he squeezed a puck past Ward at the side of the net. Obviously, Cam's legpad wasn't as flush to the post as he would have liked. That made it 3-1 and the game was as well as over. The Leafs added an empty netter, and another home loss hit the books for Carolina. I hate to try to analyze these games because I can't explain why the Canes play poorly when they do. Maybe my daughter summed it up best when she said to me, "the Canes look tired". I replied to her, "it's only the 1st period they can't be tired", but they did sure look it. Give credit to the Leafs, they really took it to the home team. They outhit the Canes 51-36 and outshot them 38 to 29. That's right, 51 hits! I don't recall the Hurricanes ever having 51 hits in a game, that number is just incredible.
In the meantime the Thrashers and Lightning both won. Tampa Bay is just 2 points behind and will be coming into town hoping to move into 2nd place with a win. You think they might be fired up? The Canes need to search within themselves and ask how much they want it. We'll find out tomorrow night. I'll share some more thoughts tomorrow about the Cane's injury problems and other game tidbits. Go Canes!